The Nanzhao regions were originally a cluster of tribes in western Yunnan, and not unified until Meng Piluoge was recognized as ruler in 738. His son, King Geluofeng (r. 748-79), fortified the country against Chinese invasion by allying his country with Tibet. The grandson of Geluofeng, Yimouxun (r. 779-808), implemented a drastically different political strategy, breaking ties with the Tibetans and pledging allegiance to the Tang emperor. According to Angela F. Howard, ‘A Gilt Bronze Guanyin from the Nanzhao Kingdom of Yunnan: Hybrid Art from the Southwestern Frontier’, The Journal of the Walters Art Gallery, vol. 48, 1990, p. 8, the royal family and nobility were subsequently educated in Chengdu, one of the most prosperous and sophisticated cities in China during the Tang dynasty.
The Qingyang Gong, a vast and important Daoist temple complex in Chengdu, was erected in the 9th century, suggesting the strength of the religion in Sichuan at the time. The ambitious young elites of the Meng family and other Nanzhao nobility were likely influenced by the strongly Daoist surroundings, and the worship of Wenchang, the god of letters and scholars, seems especially appropriate given that they were sent to Chengdu to study. Wenchang's celebrated acolyte Kuixing, often depicted brandishing a brush and holding a vessel to measure a scholar's worth, would have been a popular subject of art and veneration.
Compare the face and physicality of the present figure with that of a Yunnan bronze figure of a wrathful guardian attributed to the 10th to mid-13th century, now at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, obj. no. 1994.23. A gilt-bronze Daoist figure attributed to the Dali Kingdom, 13th/14th century, was offered in these rooms, 20th March 2002, lot 279. Another gilt-lacquered bronze figure attributed to the Dali Kingdom, 10th-13th century, of the deity Avalokiteshvara and from the Fong Chow Collection, was sold at Christie’s New York, 21st March 2013, lot 1191.
The dating of this lot is consistent with its Oxford Authentication Ltd. thermoluminescence test result, no. C118j38.
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